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NUCLEAR EMERGENCY: The dangers of potential meltdowns at nuclear power plants are well known. This art raises its own alarm by using a familiar symbol for nuclear power to evoke an image from a famous painting—The Scream, by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. (Malgorzata Bedowska, Poland, 2009)

CREDIT: Malgorzata Bedowska/Greenpeace

The Art of Protest

When it comes to swaying public opinion, a provocative image can be a powerful tool
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The Women's March
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Why I Joined The Tea Party

Art is for art’s sake, goes an old expression. The artists represented on these pages might disagree. They have created works with a message—each image in its own way an act of protest.

These artworks are meant to critique the people and institutions that wield power in our society, such as political parties and corporations. The art tackles a number of issues, from the environment to war to the right to bear arms. 

Sometimes protest images are tied to particular movements (see “Protest Nation"). Other times they reflect the particular concerns of their creators. Artists making social statements use a variety of methods to grab the public’s attention. But many start with a simple concept: taking a familiar image or idea, then making it surprising by changing it. 

For example, “We Need More Party Animals” (below) doesn’t include the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey. The artist seems to be saying that Americans need more choices when it comes to political parties.

These unique images were all created to plead, to argue, and maybe to provoke. Some of them may upset or even offend you. As acts of protest, their purpose is to make you react—and think about the world in a new way.

STANDING ROCK

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CREDIT: Jackie Fawn

 

In 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota protested construction of an oil pipeline running through Indian land. This art shows a Native American warrior in battle with a serpent that looks like an oil pipeline. (Jackie Fawn, U.S., 2016)

CHILDREN AT WAR

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CREDIT: Woody Pirtle/Chris Dunn/Amnesty International

Protest images often imitate road signs because their symbols are so widely recognized. In this case, the art comments on young people being forced to serve as soldiers, a horror that most commonly occurs in conflict-ridden African countries. (Woody Pirtle and Chris Dunn, U.S., 1999)

NIKE VICTIM

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CREDIT: Michael Zargarinejad

Part of a series called “Fashion Victims,” this piece comments on both our love for designer labels and the horrible labor conditions in some Third World factories, where many brand-name products are made. (M. Zargarinejad, Germany, 1999)

WE NEED MORE PARTY ANIMALS

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CREDIT: Thomas Porostocky

This artist playfully alludes to the mascots of the major U.S. political parties—the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey—without showing them. He seems to believe that the choices our two-party system gives us are too limited. (Thomas Porostocky, U.S., 2004)

I AM A MAN

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CREDIT: Mark Humphrey/AP photo

Sometimes the most effective statements are the simplest. In 1968, black sanitation workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee, carried this sign to assert that they were human beings with rights, not faceless trash haulers. (Unknown, U.S., 1968)

GIVE MOTHER THE VOTE 

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CREDIT: David Frent/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Before the 19th Amendment gave them the right to vote in 1920, women took to the streets. Here, America’s babies insist on doing the right thing for mother. (National Women’s Suffrage Publishing Company, U.S., 1915)

WAR IS GOOD BUSINESS

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CREDIT: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Using a slogan he saw on an anti-Vietnam War button, this artist added 19th-century engravings of a mother and soldier to emphasize his message: that some businessmen were profiting from the war while young Americans were getting killed at an alarming rate. (Seymour Chwast, U.S., 1968)

GUN CONTROL

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CREDIT: Zazzle.com

Gun control supporters often say that good laws keep guns out of the hands of bad guys. This art by an opponent of gun control uses a simple design, bold lettering, and a surprising punch line to make a different point. (Zazzle.com, U.S.)

DON’T TREAD ON ME

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CREDIT: Nickolay BelevtsovShutterstock.com

The flag with a coiled rattlesnake and the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” was widely used by patriots during the Revolutionary War (1775-83). More recently, the Tea Party movement, a faction of Republicans that emerged after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, has embraced the symbol and motto as an expression of its resolve to protect individuals’ rights from government overreach. (Christopher Gadsden, U.S., 1775)

OCCUPY WALL STREET

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CREDIT: Lalo Alcaraz

In 2011, thousands of people staged a sit-in at a park near New York City’s Wall Street. They were protesting against greed in the U.S. financial system and the influence of the “1 percent”—meaning the richest Americans—here symbolized by a figure from the Monopoly game. (Lalo Alcaraz, U.S., 2011)

GMO FOOD 

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CREDIT: Jarok Bujny 2004

Many people are worried about genetically modified crops—known as GMOs—in our food supply. This unpleasant image is a warning about the unknown consequences of messing with Mother Nature. (Jarek Bujny, Poland, 2004)

SCHOOL OR PRISON? 

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CREDIT: Mata Ruda/theamplifierfoundation.org

This poster—titled “How Can I Write My Own Future With My Hands Bound?”—tackles a complex subject: how so many young African-American males end up in prison. The image may suggest that education is the key to freeing this young black man. (Mata Ruda, U.S., 2016)

WE THE PEOPLE

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CREDIT: Shepard Fairey/obeygiant.com

This image of a Muslim woman in an American flag hijab (head scarf) was created for the Women’s March as a symbol of diversity and inclusiveness in the U.S.—which many marchers saw as threatened by President Trump’s proposals. (Shepard Fairey, U.S., 2017)

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